April 26, 2009

Al-Qa'idah in Iraq - "We're still here..."

Click for larger viewBaghdad

Click for larger viewKazimiyah section

The attack Friday by Al-Qa'dah in Iraq (AQI) on the al-Kazimiyah shrine in the north section of Baghdad is a reminder that the security situation in Iraq, although improved since the extreme violence of only two years ago, remains an issue. It is also a reminder that AQI is still a threat that must be addressed if the country is going to return to some sense of normalcy - not that life under Saddam Husayn could be considered normal. Ironically, the Kazimiyah section of the city was the venue of Saddam Husayn's execution - it took place at the former compound of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. During my time in Baghdad in 1988 as a liaison officer, I worked at this compound.

AQI has suffered since "the surge" began in late 2007. It has been pretty much defeated and pushed into the Mosul area in the north. Its attacks have been focused in that area as well as areas of Baghdad.

Golden Mosque - Samarra'مرقد الامامين علي الهادي والحسن العسكري
Shrine of 10th and 11th Imams - Samarra'

Friday's attack reveals AQI's latest tactic - try to re-ignite the sectarian violence of 2006 and 2007 that occurred after the militant Sunni AQI (then under the direction of Abu Musa'ib al-Zarqawi) destroyed the Shi'a holy site in Samarra' - the Golden Mosque that houses the shrines of 'Ali al-Hadi and Hasan al-'Askari. These two are the 10th and 11th imams respectively, grandfather and father of the 12th imam, the last imam who went into occultation as a child and will return as the Mahdi. This attack was too much for the Shi'a to take without a response. Prior to this assault, the Shi'a had observed the wishes of Grand Ayatollah 'Ali al-Saystani not to be provoked into a civil war.

kazimiyah Shrine - Baghdadالحضرة الكاظمية
Kazimiyah Shrine (tombs of 7th and 9th Imams)

The Kazimiyah shrine is another holy site for Shi'a Muslims. After the three holy cities common to all Muslims (Mecca, Madinah and Jerusalem), the Shi'a revere the shrines in the Iraqi cities of Najaf, Karabala' and the Kazimiyah section of Baghdad. The Kazimiyah shrine houses the tombs of the Shi'a 7th Imam (Musa al-Kazim - hence the name Kazimiyah) and the 9th Imam (Muhammad al-Taqi), as well as other noted Shi'a scholars. An attack on this shrine by Sunni militants is another direct attack on the Shi'a sect of Islam.

Igniting sectarian violence was a measure of desperation for AQI in 2006, and is again in 2009. AQI believes that a successful attack on Kazimiyah has the potential to restart the sectarian violence between the Sunnis and Shi'as. Of course, the Shi'a-dominated government and security forces understand the significance of this mosque and have placed it under heavy guard.

AQI knows the Americans are leaving. Their only hope to achieve their aims of turning Iraq into an Islamic state is to cause a civil war they think they can win. The Iraqi government must continue the efforts started by the Americans to work with the Sunni tribes and jointly hunt down and kill the remnants of AQI.